By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A top realtor fears Hurricane Irma may jeopardise the closing of several high-end waterfront property sales that are scheduled over the next several weeks.
Mike Lightbourn, Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty's president, told Tribune Business: "We've got several closings of waterfront properties due after the hurricane, and that [Irma] puts them in jeopardy.
"If damage is done to those properties, it's up to the seller to make the necessary repairs, reduce the price or the buyer pulls out of the deal. Anything can go wrong."
Irma, labelled a "nuclear hurricane" because of its 185 mile per hour, Category Five winds, is set to impact most of the Bahamas over the next three days via a combination of wind, storm surges and rain/flooding.
Waterfront properties are especially vulnerable to storm surges and flooding because of their coastal location, and Mr Lightbourn said Irma's arrival would likely make potential buyers - now and into the future - more aware of the risks.
"It makes people more aware of the potential dangers that are there," the veteran realtor emphasised.
He added that Irma's passage, and any damage inflicted on the Bahamas, would likely attract an influx of buyers seeking 'a deal' on damaged high-end properties.
"There are always bottom feeders looking for a deal right after the hurricane," Mr Lightbourn told Tribune Business. "They want to pick up damaged waterfront properties at pennies on the dollar. I don't blame them if they can do it."
Mario Carey, president and chief executive of Better Homes and Gardens MCR (Bahamas), confirmed to this newspaper that what Mr Lightbourn had described was "a trend that we see all the time" following hurricanes.
"It brings in new buyers who are looking for deals," he said of the aftermath of major storms. "We see that trend all the time. They see the damage, and owners who say they do not want to go through another hurricane."
Mr Carey said the deal-seekers would be looking for property owners who, having just invested significant sums on Hurricane Matthew repairs, are unwilling to deal with the potential fall-out from Irma and future storms.
He added, though, that Irma was unlikely to negatively impact foreign demand for high-end Bahamian real estate medium and long-term beyond the instant 'deal-seekers'.
Mr Carey said waterfront properties, recognising the Bahamas was in the 'hurricane belt', were typically built to standards that exceeded the Building Code with impact windows, generators and their own property managers.
He added that "a lot of them don't have hurricane insurance, believe it or not", with owners placing their faith in the quality of building construction.
"Anybody who comes to the Bahamas knows we're hurricane prone," Mr Carey told Tribune Business. "Anybody who comes to the Bahamas to buy real estate is aware we don't have earthquakes, floods and fires, but that we do have hurricanes.
"When they go to buy, they want to make sure the house is well-built and hurricane-ready. If they don't have a generator, impact windows, the value of the property will go down."
John Christie, H. G. Christie Ltd's chief executive, backed Mr Carey's argument that any Matthew-type impact from Hurricane Irma will have no lasting impact on foreign demand for Bahamian real estate.
"It might for three weeks or so," he told Tribune Business, "but as soon as it gets cold and all the other reasons people come here, it becomes ancient history and people move on.
"Matthew didn't have any affect on anything. Lyford Cay and Old Fort Bay got hit hard, but it didn't have any long-term effect. Things could change, but historically we haven't had anything. It'll have short-term impact, but not a long-term impact."